“Once [fear] is overcome, we are no longer susceptible to making people our god. Free to see God without human interference, we will be able to discover His true attraction and our ultimate destiny.”
-Russ Ewell, When God Isn’t Attractive
I was a shy kid. Parent-teacher conferences were usually focused on how quiet I was in class, but not in the “it would be nice if Alexis spoke up more” kind of way. It was more of an “I am legitimately concerned your child doesn’t have vocal chords” kind of conversation. Throughout my life I participated in sports and other extracurricular activities but refused to interact with anyone in any capacity other than kicking a soccer ball away from them. But by the last meet of my eighth grade track tournament, my dad had had enough. He told me that we were not leaving the track until I said something to someone. Putting it off until the very last and shortest event, the 100-meter dash, I waited in line to run, already accepting defeat and that I was incapable of human interaction. But then, I saw it. The girl stretching next to me was wearing the coolest pink glasses I had ever seen. Wait…I had glasses too! A connection! Summoning all the courage I had built over the thirteen years of my life, I reached over and tapped her on the shoulder. “I like your glasses!” I blurted out. And then we ran. She probably thought I yelled that at her so I could throw her off, but I never stayed around long enough to find out.
As an adult, I hope to think that I’ve grown a little bit in my social skills. I at least am capable of carrying a conversation. But too often, I find myself gripped with the same fear of people that held my thirteen-year-old self captive. I get so caught up in what others think of me, how I fit in with my peers, and how I’m perceived by the world around me, that I lose sight of the greater purpose God has set out for me.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you.
When we let our fear of people take over, we are unable to make lasting change and end up caught in the repetitive cycle of doing the same behaviors and having the same ways of thinking as everyone else. As the scripture says, this trap of trying to fit in with others blinds us from seeing and experiencing how God works. We miss out on the satisfaction that we are so desperately trying to get from people’s approval and acceptance. The more I let my fear of being different, rejected, and alone control my life, the lower my standard becomes for what qualifies as satisfying, and the smaller my dreams and aspirations become. I lose my sense of passion and purpose, and my greatest ambition of changing the world is reduced to simply trying to get someone to like me.
This imprisoning fear crept into my life in the dorms during my freshman year of college. Moving in the first day, I was ready to go. Along with my suitcases and duffel bags, I brought with me all these plans to help people and make a difference. I was going to start clubs, change lives, and still get straight A’s. But by the end of my first quarter, I hadn’t accomplished anything. I had become enslaved to what my friends thought of me, basing my entire life around getting them to think I was cool, funny, and just like them. The extravagant visions I had for my life and those around me diminished, and my biggest goal became to find the funniest BuzzFeed article that would make my friends laugh the most. I wasn’t able to see God’s destiny for me because people were so big in my mind that I didn’t have room for even a thought about him.
They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
As Colossians 2 explains, I had lost connection with God, the head. Because I was completely controlled by what my friends thought of me, I remained stagnant, never able to grow into the person God meant for me to be. I had to pray and talk it out with God, choosing to not let my fear of people control me anymore. After praying through all the fears I had and ways I saw myself compromise and settle, I was able to experience all the ways God could satisfy me (as Romans 12:2 described). Free from the grips of what people thought, I decided that it was more important to care about my friends than to care about what they thought of me. The next four years of college were spent looking for ways to love my friends, have life-changing conversations, and do everything I could to make a difference on campus. This was in no way because I was no longer afraid. That fearful and desperately awkward thirteen-year-old girl was still very much a part of me. What changed was that the fear no longer controlled me, and I had something bigger to live for.
How have you been held captive by a fear of people? What do you need to pray about in order to free yourself from this grip? Who needs you to overcome your fear so you can love them instead?
To learn more about how to overcome our fear of people, read Chapter 3, “When People Become God: Overcoming the Fear of Being Different” in Russ Ewell’s book, When God Isn’t Attractive,